Musée d'Orsay: James Tissot (1836-1902), Ambiguously modern

James Tissot (1836-1902), Ambiguously modern

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A Frenchman in London

James TissotThe Answer (The Letter)© MBAC
On 30 September 1870, when Paris was under siege from Prussian forces, Tissot joined the National Defence volunteer corps in the Seine infantry battalion.
The painter was a staunch patriot and enlisted as a volunteer like other artists including Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Jules Regnault, and Joseph Cuvelier.

He took part in fighting at Malmaison and recorded in his notebooks the ferocity of the clashes which made a lasting and profound impact on him.
By contrast, it is difficult to establish whether Tissot participated in the Commune as he was not politically committed like Courbet.

Whatever the case may be, Tissot left the capital in haste after Bloody Week, which brought the Commune to an end.
Arriving in London in the summer of 1871, he wasted no time in relaunching his career.

His reputation preceded him as he had shown work there on three occasions at official exhibitions between 1862 and 1864, and had been working with London-based art dealer Ernest Gambart since 1863. Tissot received a particularly warm welcome from his friend Thomas Gibson Bowles, editor of the magazine Vanity Fair, to whom he had already submitted some caricatures during the Second Empire

In England, the painter renewed his acquaintance with his Parisian friends, the artists Alphonse Legros, Giuseppe De Nittis, and James Whistler.
He also moved in smart Victorian circles and received a few portrait commissions. However, Tissot remained a French exile in London and maintained a degree of distance, tinged with irony vis-à-vis the strait-laced morals of the Victorian era. Paintings such as Too early and London Visitors reflect his French perception of British social conventions.

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